UPDATE MAJOR UPDATE: Deal is apparently off. I'm as confused as you probably are. Original story follows.
Zack Wheeler might end up being the first true ace to pitch more than a year and a half with the Brewers since Ben Sheets. Zack Wheeler might end up having a better career than Ben Sheets when all is said and done. Zack Wheeler might end up becoming among the best pitchers in Brewers history.
Zack Wheeler might end up never recovering fully from injury, suffer from control issues, and end up being a back-of-the-rotation starter at best who is too inconsistent to trust in bigger moments.
That's the danger when you trade for a former top pitching prospect who is still in the middle of a recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Wheeler is certainly a highly-regarded pitcher. Having turned 25 years old at the beginning of May, he's already made 49 major league starts with a 3.50 ERA, a 3.77 FIP, an 8.5 K/9 and a 3.5 BB/9.
In the minor leagues, Wheeler was rated the 49th best prospect in the nation by Baseball America prior to 2010, 55th prior to 2011, 35th prior to 2012, and 11th prior to 2013. He then broke into the majors and was no longer considered a prospect. Throughout his minor league tenure with the Giants and Mets (after being traded for Carlos Beltran), he always proved to be a capable pitcher.
His stuff looked unhittable at times, and he finished with an MiLB K/9 of 9.6. Wheeler throws a fastball in the mid-90s and works in a changeup, a slider, a sinker and curveball. The curve is highly respected while the change has been a bit of a work in progress. Some scouts have said each of his pitches can be 'plus'.
However, Wheeler has had issues with his control at times. He's averaged four walks per nine innings since becoming a professional pitcher, which is not a very good number for a starting pitcher. He's been able to find success because of his talent, but to take a step to 'ace' status, he needs to get his walk totals under control. He's also had some struggles against lefties. Amazin' Avenue has an amazing breakdown of Wheeler's scouting report that you should absolutely read.
Of course, the thing I've mostly glossed over so far is this: Zack Wheeler won't even pitch for the Brewers until mid-season 2016 because he underwent Tommy John surgery on March 25 of this year after it was discovered he had both a fully-torn UCL and a torn tendon in his right (pitching) elbow.
That, of course, does not sound great. And it's not -- though it may seem that way at times, it is not a sure thing for pitchers to make it fully back from Tommy John surgery.
Brewers acquiring Wheeler would be a big gamble. Reminder from @MLBPlayerAnalys - 1 in 5 pitchers who have TJ never pitch in majors again.
— Paul Swydan (@Swydan) July 30, 2015
The good news, however, is that Wheeler is well on his way to recovery. He's begun a throwing program and has stated that it has been going well and that he is feeling good. However, there's still a long way to go before he's back in pitching shape.
Of course, and this maybe can't be emphasized enough, if there's a medical staff you want in charge of an injured player, it might be the Brewers' staff. The Brewers medical crew have been one of the best at preventing Tommy John surgery in the first place and have received praise on numerous occasions.
Here's what Wheeler said after throwing again for the first time recently:
"Everything went well this morning. Threw 30 throws total. Fifteen to get out to 60 feet then another 15 once I was there at 60. Felt strong and pain-free. Been working my butt off in the weight room, so this day was rewarding"
There's also this:
Wheeler, who admitted to pitching through pain and bouts of tendinitis during a career-high 185 1/3 innings in 2014, said the UCL tear was independent from the existing torn tendon and calcification in his ailing elbow.
"Honestly," he said, "I’ve had pain in that spot in my elbow since I got drafted, since before I got drafted."
Really, you can take that two ways. First, it's terrifying that he's had paid for this long and that it took so long for anything to happen and he's a walking injury risk. Second, Tommy John surgery, if he comes back strong from it, might mean he's an even better pitcher than everyone thought, if he's pain free. Control of pitches is often one of the last things to come back when recovering from a torn UCL, but being pain-free could eventually mean he's able to better locate his pitches. That would be a scary, scary thing for the rest of baseball.
To sum up, Zack Wheeler could be really awesome. He has been very good in the past, and might have been primed for a breakout had he not needed Tommy John before 2015. There's a good reason scouts have loved him since he was the 6th overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Wheeler is still pre-arbitration for next season, then has three years of team control following that. In other words, he can be a Brewers player through at least 2019 before he's a free agent. For a year and a half of Carlos Gomez, this could end up working out very well for the Brewers. And Wheeler is only half of the return.
And also, just for fun:
Zack Wheeler, career ERAs against the NL Central Cubs: 1.35 Pirates: DNP Reds: 1.50 Brewers: 1.54 Cardinals: DNP Hellooooooo nurse— Brew Crew Ball (@BrewCrewBall) July 30, 2015